The Long Wait , Harini Krishna, Tamilnadu

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August 15, 1947, 12 AM

Paali, Rajasthan

Nagaraj was pacing nonstop outside his hut. He was worried beyond what he could handle. The whole village was bustling with activity but he didn’t bother to find out why. All he could hear were the moans of pain his wife uttered inside the hut. After five years of marriage and trying for children, it was the first baby they were going to have. Nagaraj wasn’t worried about his wife much. He knew she was strong. All he wanted was God’s grace to gift him a son.

His wife kept crying in pain while a couple of women, who had come to help deliver the baby, kept asking her to be a little more patient. It wasn’t going to be an easy delivery. As Nagaraj looked at the sky in a silent prayer, fireworks shot across, lighting the sky in brilliant colours. He looked around to see people running around and celebrating in mad happiness.

‘Freedom! We are free now! Bharath Mata ki Jai![1]

The cries of India’s independence filled the whole neighbourhood. Nagaraj wanted to run out and celebrate with them. Just then, a lady came out from inside the hut and informed him in a melancholy tone, ‘Your wife is suffering a lot. It might take the whole night for the baby to come out. I am not sure if either of the mother or baby can make it. Pray that everything should be fine.’

Nagaraj kept pacing and praying that his wife should be fine and that he should have a son. It was a long night ahead of him. For people around him, it was a night of celebration, but for him, it was anticipation. He kept pacing, wishing the night to end soon, not knowing that by the dawn his wife wouldn’t make it and that he would be left with a daughter named after his wife Savitri.

***

December 19, 1969, 10 PM

Pipli, Rajasthan

She hadn’t wanted any of this. If only her step-mother hadn’t been evil enough to get her married off to a fifty-year old man just to get the status of ‘in-laws of a Zamindar family’, she wouldn’t be facing this torture. Savitri didn’t blame the old man she had married. He had been kinder to her than her own father and step-mother, had taught her to read and write, gave her everything she wanted and had left her and her daughter with his inheritance upon his death.

Still, he had no right to leave her alone in a village full of superstitious old people and his greedy nephews and nieces who wanted to grab his inheritance for themselves. When he contracted tuberculosis, Savitri had prayed with all her might for his health. But he couldn’t last long.

Now, his greedy relatives had riled up the villagers with some ominous signs and insisted that Savitri must follow the Sati practice, that she must step into the pyre of her husband who had given her so much and save him as well as the villagers from the wrath of evil spirits. Savitri knew it was all absurd, but her voice against the voices of a thousand people was not being heard. She was ignorant of the fact that Sati was illegal. The funeral of her husband was planned for the next morning. She had less than twelve hours to live.

‘Mamma,’ her daughter murmured in her half sleep.

Savitri held her daughter in her arms as she paced in her room, rocking the little girl to sleep. She wanted to stay up the whole night and listen to her three year old baby speak those broken words she had learnt. She was barely forming sensible sentences, but her voice and incoherent words sounded like music to Savitri. She so wanted to see her daughter grow up, give her a better life and free will which she hadn’t been able to get in her own life, yet now, she was going to die unjustly.

Death didn’t scare her. She was used to receiving death threats from her step-mother every day. It was her husband who had changed that. Despite the thirty years of age difference between them, he had tried to be open minded with her. He had stayed away from marital life owing to his job in the army. After the 1965 war with Pakistan, he had returned to his village, tired and seeking a change from his bloodshed filled life. All he had wanted was a person who would show him a different perspective of life. A lot of attempts later, he ended up marrying the girl who made him smile with her clumsiness.

Savitri missed him now. But above all, she was scared for her daughter. She was sure after her death, her relatives would throw her daughter into an orphanage and never even bother whether she survives the hellish life or not. Her daughter would probably end up having a worse life than Savitri.

‘Mamma, we’ll go,’ her daughter murmured.

‘Where honey?’

‘To dad,’ she whispered sleepily.

‘It’s okay honey, I will go to your dad. You can stay here a little longer,’ Savitri said, tears welling up in her eyes.

‘Mamma, don’t leave me,’ her voice choked.

Savitri knew it was the atmosphere in the house they’ve had for the past couple of days, the wailings, arguments, taunts and tears that were scaring her little girl. But she was completely helpless. There was nothing she was able to think of or do. She couldn’t even run away anywhere.

Singing a lullaby to her baby, Savitri prayed silently for the night to never end. The moment must stop with its darkness around for her to survive and save her daughter. She fervently wished the night to continue, not knowing that a social reformer was on his way to the village with a force of activists from a women welfare organization and the Press with him; ready to storm the village by the dawn to stop the inhuman practice of Sati, arrest the perpetrators and save Savitri and her daughter.

***

June 20, 2017, 11 PM

A small town, Kashmir

It was darker than usual. The black clouds they had seen approaching the region in the evening had now covered up the whole horizon. That and the clouds of smoke and dirt which hung in the air after all the firing that had happened throughout the day made the night even more unbearable. Capt. Arun was sticking to his position atop a water tank, his sniper aimed at the avenue further which was the only way for the terrorists to enter the town.

A dozen terrorists had occupied a small town close to the LOC in Kashmir. Capt. Arun and his battalion that was stationed nearby had taken charge and stormed the town in a sudden attack without any orders while the government was still pondering over how to deal with the situation. The army battalion was able to take down seven of the terrorists while the rest stayed hidden and they had rescued more than twenty hostages. Capt. Arun had validated information that more terrorists were on the outskirts, ready to take over the town again. He and his battalion had formulated strategy to block the entry points of the town while a few of them went over the place annihilating the rest, hidden terrorists.

Arun looked sideways to check the stock of ammunition he had with him. He would be able to stop if anyone tried to come through there. But they were running short of their resources and people as well. Six of his men were already down. They needed the government to decide fast and send help soon. There were only fifteen of his battalion soldiers left and he wasn’t sure they would be enough to guard the town.

He knew that even if their higher officials decided to go for aggressive defence, it would be dawn by the time the military forces and replenishments arrived. He knew the army had to take care of the foes stationed outside the town, waiting for their chance, before they could storm the place. He should hold the fort till the dawn. It was going to be a very long night for him.

He remembered his grandmother telling him stories of her childhood and those of his mother’s childhood too. She often iterated that a single night was enough to change the course of your life, to either destroy you or save you. Grandma Savitri was right.

He waited with his sniper ready, awaiting the dawn, not knowing that the terrorists would be storming the place before help arrived, that his best comrade would fall, that he would kill three of the damned foes and save a dozen other hostages, that help would come on time to save him from getting shot.

[1] ‘Bharath Mata ki Jai’ is an Indian slogan that means ‘Hail Mother India’, referring to the motherland India as Mother.

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